Both TOEFL and IELTS consist of 4 sections: Reading, Listening, Writing and Speaking. TOEFL usually takes around 4 hours, whereas IELTS is usually shorter at around 2 hours 45 minutes. The differences in the two tests are elaborated below:


TOEFL is a multiple choice only reading section. IELTS has a range of 15 question types including short answer, true/false, summary and multiple choice. In real life, you are rarely asked multiple choice questions (outside of exam situations) so the IELTS gives you a more realistic practical experience. The exam is also split into 3x20 minute sections, gradually getting harder. This should build up your confidence slowly through easy questions progressing on to the more difficult ones.


The TOEFL listening exam lasts between 40 and 60 minutes and is based around situations relating to University life. The IELTS listening section lasts 30 minutes, divided into 4 sections, covering applying for something, an informational lecture, a conversation in an academic context and an academic lecture. At both shorter and more varied, IELTS seems to once again come out on top in the listening section.


TOEFL is a 50 minute 2 question exam that is typed into a computer. In total, you will be asked to write between 450 and 600 words in two essay questions. IELTS features 2 tasks and lasts 1 hour. These answers are handwritten. The first question involved interpreting a graph, table or diagram. The next involves a short 250-word essay answer as an argument or a discussion. These tasks are quite evenly matched, but depending on whether you will need to write out things by hand or you will be using a laptop, computer or tablet for writing at university. Either way, it is a good idea to practice both forms of writing, regardless of which method of assessment you decide on.


The TOEFL speaking exam is a 20 minute conversation with a computer which is recorded and assessed by an examiner at a later stage. You are asked 6 university related questions. The IELTS speaking exam is slightly shorter at 12-15 minutes long. This is split into 6 parts and is conducted with a real examiner. With few examples when you will have to talk to a computer, IELTS is much better for practicing with a live tester. You can’t hide from speaking English when it is the native language of where you are living, so don’t shy away from a real conversation for the exam.

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